Judge dismisses AEG execs from Jackson lawsuit

 

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A judge on Monday dismissed two executives from a negligence lawsuit filed by Michael Jackson's mother and allowed the case to proceed against AEG Live LLC, the promoter of his planned comeback concerts.

Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos said lawyers for Katherine Jackson hadn't shown enough evidence that Randy Phillips, CEO of AEG Live LLC, and promoter Paul Gongaware were responsible for the death of the pop star.

The judge, however, did rule that jurors should decide whether AEG Live hired Conrad Murray, the former cardiologist convicted of giving Michael Jackson a lethal overdose of anesthetic in June 2009. AEG Live denies any wrongdoing.

The ruling will simplify the case for jurors, who could begin deliberations before the end of the month.

During the trial, Katherine Jackson's lawyers attacked the actions of Gongaware and Phillips in the months before the death. They claimed the executives missed warning signs about the superstar's health and created a conflict of interest for his physician.

Phillips and Gongaware denied they did anything wrong when they testified early in the case.

Katherine Jackson sued AEG Live in 2010, claiming the company hired Murray.

AEG Live lawyers argued the Jackson family matriarch had failed to prove that the company hired Murray or that its executives could have foreseen that the doctor was giving the entertainer treatments that would lead to his death.

The company is expected to conclude its defense next week. Lawyers for Jackson's mother say they plan to call several rebuttal witnesses.

Due to an illness in a juror's family, Palazuelos said there would be no testimony in the case this week.

Opening statements in the case were April 29 and jurors have heard from more than 50 witnesses in 20 weeks. Key witnesses have included Jackson's mother, his oldest son, his ex-wife Debbie Rowe, and several top AEG Live executives.

The trial has featured potentially damaging testimony to both sides, with Katherine Jackson's lawyers displaying emails sent by AEG executives describing Jackson in unflattering terms.

The company's lawyers have shown the jury testimony from several of Jackson's doctors, who described close relationships with the singer and their occasional misgivings about whether he was shopping for doctors or had grown dependent on prescription medications.

“I really think it would be inappropriate here for this to go to a jury,” AEG Live defense attorney Marvin S. Putnam argued Monday.

Deborah Chang, an attorney for Katherine Jackson, countered that evidence in the case supported the family's position that AEG is responsible for Michael Jackson's death. They claim AEG Live created a conflict of interest in Murray's care of Jackson by agreeing to pay him $150,000 a month to work as a tour physician.

“They created the conflict and I think all of that is well within the record,” she said.

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Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP

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